Whether the Seahawks will place a franchise tag on Sheldon Richardson is one of the team's more intriguing upcoming decisions.
While the Seahawks could make personnel moves at any time — teams can release players and sign their own free agents whenever they want — the next specific date for a potentially significant transaction on the NFL calendar is Feb. 20.
That’s when NFL teams can begin placing franchise tags on pending free agent players, a period that lasts until March 6 (a tag binds a player to the team for one year but then means he gets either an average of the top five salaries at his position or 120 percent of his previous year’s salary, whichever is greater).
Seattle has not used its franchise tag since 2010, when in the first year for Pete Carroll and John Schneider Seattle placed it on kicker Olindo Mare (which meant the Seahawks had to pay Mare $2.8 million that season, which for what it’s worth was almost triple the $1.1 million the Seahawks gave Blair Walsh last year).
In fact, it hasn’t even been thought the Seahawks have really seriously considered placing the tag on anyone since then, Seattle usually having already extended the types of free agents who might have warranted it and otherwise feeling there was no one else deserving of it.
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But that could change this season as some around the league think the Seahawks could consider placing a franchise tag on defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who can become an unrestricted free agent on March 14.
Among those making that case is NFL insider Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, who has often had a pretty good eye on what the Seahawks might do and on Monday listed Richardson as one of five players he feels could be deserving of a franchise tag.
Wrote La Canfora: “Seattle gave up a decent haul to land him, to say the least. I want to do more than just rent him for one season – a season in which my team missed the playoffs, to boot. I’m shedding Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman and Cliff Avril and some older players on defense, and I am keeping Richardson, at age 27, for at least one more year. He can be too much of an impact player – able to push the pocket inside or outside – to let him leave now. I would flirt with transitioning him at $11.7 million, but with his talent (and yeah, he has major warts off field and I have trepidation about a long-term deal) spend the other few million and get to $14.5 million to keep him. They’ll have enough space once the purge begins and this kid in their scheme could be dominant. I have to keep someone over there.’’
There’s a few things to unpack there.
One, part of La Canfora’s reasoning is that the Seahawks will release Chancellor and Sherman. As we found out over the weekend, the Seahawks are going to have to pay Chancellor $6.8 million this year no matter what happens at this point. So there’s no money there to help pay Richardson.
And while there has been outside speculation about Sherman’s future, the odds still seem low, at best, that the team will just outright releases him anytime soon (and recall that like with Chancellor, injured players can’t be waived, so it wouldn’t be until Sherman could pass a physical that the team would know it would have any of his money to spend — Sherman has an $11 million base salary this year, also the amount the team could save by releasing him).
Another is the idea that if the team loses Richardson then it gives up the “decent haul’’ it gave to get him for not all that much.
But that point can be argued some. Recall that the Seahawks acquired Richardson from the Jets for receiver Jermaine Kearse and a 2018 second-round pick.
Kearse was coming off a down 2016 season and has a contract that goes through the 2018 season that includes a $5.5 million cap hit next year — all of which can be saved if he is released. That fact led most to conclude there was no way Kearse would ever play for Seattle in 2018 under that contract, meaning that in the eyes of the Seahawks at that time they were getting the last year of Richardson’s contract for what could well have been the final year for Kearse, as well as the second-round pick.
The pick, though, could essentially be largely recouped if Richardson were to sign elsewhere as he would almost certainly net Seattle a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.
So the way the Seahawks saw the trade at the time, they were essentially swapping players that either were or in their eyes were likely to be in the final year of their contract while moving down one round in the draft one year later (though the fact that comp picks can be traded means the pick could become of use for Seattle this year).
Point being, simply trying to make the trade look good might not be a primary motivation to tag (or re-sign) Richardson.
More pressing is whether the Seahawks just think it makes fiscal and practical sense.
Richardson had a solid season for Seattle in 2017 while admitting it took him a little while to adjust to playing in a 4-3 compared to the Jets 3-4. At 27 he is entering the prime of his career and with Cliff Avril’s career likely done and Michael Bennett’s future uncertain, the Seahawks could use some certainty on their defensive line.
Conversely, tagging Richardson would make him the second-highest paid player on the Seahawks behind Russell Wilson as it is estimated the tag number for defensive tackles will be $14.5 million.
That might complicate things with Earl Thomas, to name one, who currently makes $10 million a year and would probably want to be at least the highest-paid defensive player on the Seahawks.
There’s also the issue of whether Richardson is worth that much — some around the league wonder how he will respond to getting big money (he has so far made roughly $18 million in five years in the NFL).
Also worth wondering is how Richardson would react to the tag as he’d undoubtedly rather have a long-term deal — teams can continue to negotiate with tagged players through July 16 but at that point the player has to sign the tag and no extension can be signed until after the regular season. The tag number, though, if not setting a floor, would at least help shape the nature of any other negotiations.
So there is, indeed, a lot to unpack about what looms as one of the Seahawks’ more intriguing upcoming decisions.